RALEIGH—It was like a flashback to the 2015 Elite Eight—a penalty kick, a decisive save and a barrel roll by goalkeeper EJ Proctor.
“Last second—I read it,” she said.
The play before, the junior swept away a shot headed for the top right corner. The play after the penalty, she stopped a header off a corner from point-blank range.
And with the 2015 College Cup Most Outstanding Player on Defense in fine form, No. 9 Duke knocked off N.C. State 3-1 Sunday evening at Dail Soccer Stadium, the Blue Devils’ 16th straight victory against the Wolfpack. Duke only outshot N.C. State 15-14 and had five fewer corner kicks than the Wolfpack, but timely goals by senior Christina Gibbons, freshman Ella Stevens and junior Imani Dorsey gave the Blue Devils their fourth straight win.
“We find ways to keep winning, we find ways to create goals,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “This group is starting to round into really good form as we move into the middle of October.”
Proctor’s penalty-kick save came just 10 minutes after Gibbons’ score on a penalty kick of her own. The Raleigh native started in midfield for the third straight game—sophomore Taylor Racioppi has been out with a leg injury—and dominated on the left flank before being moved inside.
In the 27th minute, Gibbons fed a through ball to her right into the box for Dorsey. Before Dorsey could make contact, she got tangled up with a Wolfpack defender, and the referee gave the Blue Devils (10-2-2, 5-0-1 in the ACC) the benefit of the doubt with a penalty kick.
Gibbons converted it easily, marking the second straight game she has sparked Duke's offense with a precise cross to Dorsey.
“They’re all unselfish, they don’t really care who scores,” Church said of the offense. “They look for each other, they run off of the ball, there’s good movement there.”
In the 37th minute, N.C. State (9-4-1, 3-2-1) was awarded a penalty because of a hand ball. But Proctor—who allowed 10 goals in the Blue Devils' first nine games and has given up just one since—came through to turn the tide of the game.
She dove to her left, knocking away the shot from standout Wolfpack freshman Tziarra King, who had four shots on goal.
Last year, Proctor also stopped two penalties in a shootout that decided Duke's NCAA quarterfinal win at Stanford.
“She was a star for us tonight,” Church said. “She is really rounding into form, too, as we go down the stretch of the ACC.”
The Blue Devils added their second score just before halftime to take a 2-0 lead when they crossed the ball from the right side of the field to redshirt junior Malinda Allen. Allen flicked the ball off her head to junior Casey Martinez, who sent a pass across the frame to Stevens for a tap-in goal. It marked Martinez’s second assist since she tallied four in the NCAA tournament.
Dorsey matched Stevens as the team’s highest scorer this year—both players have seven goals—on a rebound off a Gibbons shot attempt early in the second half. Gibbons' shot hit the crossbar, but it bounced right in front of the net, and Dorsey finished the job while goalkeeper Sydney Wootten was on the ground.
Down 3-0, N.C. State got on the board for the first time in 13 matchups against Duke in the 68th minute. Proctor finished with six saves but could not stop a Kia Rankin deflection following a long-range shot by Ricarda Walkling.
But that was the only goal Duke would give up despite several other close chances after the first-half penalty kick. Most notably, Blue Devil defender Morgan Reid saved a Rachel Cox bullet on the goal line with a header in the 66th minute.
“It’s definitely a relief for me to know I can let in one goal and we’re still two ahead, which is awesome," Proctor said.
With Duke firing on all cylinders—it has outscored opponents 12-1 in its last four games—the Blue Devils finally look like the team that went to the national championship game last year and was ranked third to start the season.
Duke will look to stay on top of the ACC standings having already eclipsed its 2015 conference win total Saturday when it hosts No. 8 Virginia for a top-10 showdown.
“It’s just good to finally see [the offense] get the ball in the back of the net," Proctor said. "We struggled for a few games to find that, and we’re finally just capitalizing on our chances.”
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